Soldiers on the streets to enforce the state of emergency regulations and supporting other services are backed up by a hard-working support team based at Warwick Camp.
Royal Bermuda Regiment chefs and medics are working around the clock to keep about 200 troops fed and fighting fit – part of the engine room of the Regiment that powers its large scale provision of support to the civil authorities.
Colour Sergeant John Lema, 38, said his team in the cookhouse had adapted to strict social distancing rules and disruptions in the supply chain caused by restrictions on movement around the island.
C/Sgt Lema, a chef in civilian life, said: “The social distancing of the tables in the mess has made our job a bit more difficult.
“We can’t get as many people in as we would usually do –healthy spacing only allows 40 at a time.
“We’re feeding 130 in camp and 70 stationed around the island in different places.”
He added: “Everything they would normally pick up themselves – condiments, knives, forks, cups, that sort of thing – we have to hand to them ourselves, wearing gloves – it’s a whole different set up.”
Guarded forward operating bases which expedite the movement of troops to checkpoint sites have been set up at Warwick Academy and at the bus terminals in Hamilton, St George and Dockyard and the Regiment’s Coast Guard, is based at Watford House in Sandys.
C/Sgt Lema, from Smith’s and married with a nine-year-old son, said the chefs had been embodied for more than three weeks and expected to be on duty for the foreseeable future.
He added: “It’s difficult and stressful, but we’re managing. We do a lot of joking and laughing, which keeps our spirits up.”
C/Sgt Lema admitted it was also tough being away from his family.
He said: “We’re doing OK, but my wife’s looking forward to me getting home and I’m really looking forward to seeing her and my son.”
Private Asiyah James, 24, a supervisor at People’s Pharmacy in civilian life, said she had been on duty for just over a week as soldiers are rotated through Warwick Camp to give as many soldiers as possible a chance to get home for a break.
Pte James, from Sandys, admitted: “I wasn’t prepared for something like this – but the troops are appreciative of all the hard work we’re doing.”
But she said: “I’m missing being with family, but it’s good to be here helping.”
Lance Corporal Melanie Gauntlett, 33, from Sandys, a medic, added: “It’s been good – this is my first embodiment. I’ve never been embodied before and I can’t complain, but it’s been difficult being away from my family.
Medics are monitoring all ranks, taking everyone’s temperature daily, assessing physical and mental wellbeing, inspecting soldiers on return to camp, in addition to the regular duties needed to ensure they stay fit and healthy.
The married mother of two said: “It’s been 20-odd days since I last saw my kids – but the Easter Bunny still managed to pay a visit.”
She added the main problem she had dealt with was some sunburn among lighter skinned soldiers on duty at checkpoints, but that sunscreen was quickly issued, and brimmed hats are worn to mitigate the sun.
L/Cpl Gauntlett added: “We’ve not had anything serious – but if something serious happens, I’m not doing my job.”
RBR Commanding Officer Major Ben Beasley said: “Many of the soldiers haven’t seen their families for weeks, and that’s the price that is being paid to keep the force healthy. We cannot support essential medical services or regulate the regulations if we are compromised. Granted, Warwick Camp was never designed to be a place of luxury, but we are making the best of the situation. The importance of our role now and in the weeks and months to come keeps them focussed without complaint; there’s a reason why you say ‘soldiering on’.
“They are trying to be as helpful as they can be to the public, who are sometimes under a lot of stress and pressure and they’ve had great support from the Bermuda Police Service, who have followed up on non-compliant vehicles.”
Major Beasley added: “There is the three-way pressure of the job – having to perform, being away from home and families and, for the commanders, making sure soldiers are being supported.”
He said: “The senior officer and I are no different to the other ranks, which is important to help understand the problems the troops are facing. I thank all the families who have not seen the soldier in their life for weeks, we are grateful for your sacrifice.”
“But we are performing an essential role that no other body would have the resources to do.
“It’s not just the soldiers on the streets at community advisory points or on the water, it’s the ones providing transport, medical skills, feeding, and administration that enable the 24-hour operations of the Regiment. By design, we are multi-skilled which enables diverse capability in these trying times.
Major Beasley promised: “Each member of Bermuda’s military has sworn a sacred oath which means that we will stand firm until the country can find its new normal.